Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Escape to Manhattan, Part 3

The day after Mama Luz's party, I decided to take the girls into Manhattan since it was my last day in Nueva York and because I wanted to get them out of that house. It was still a bit of a mess even though we did a lot of basic clean up the night before, drunkenly. We awoke to Papi Guillo bolting out of the back room wearing the shirt he had on at the party and boxers. He was toothless. He hoarsely yelled into the kitchen, in Spanish, that he couldn't find his teeth. His thinning lips swung in and out of his mouth like a saloon door. "My teeth aren't here!" He pointed to his face. Even Mama Luz laughed and told her father not to worry, that they were probably in the bed. Sure enough, his teeth were tangled in the sheets somehow; they must have flown out of his mouth during the fitful sleeping of an aged Life Of The Party.

On that note, I decided to get the girls up and ready before we were guilted into a ridiculous choreography of maddening rearrange-cleaning. By noon, we were on a train Manhattan-bound, taking photos and enjoying each other - a lot, as usual.

Maya is a budding photographer with a great eye, and for her birthday she got a killer camera from her BD and Sanne, for which Maya agreed to pay half. She worked that camera out in the LES!
Here are my three favorites:
Capturing Mina perfectly.
Capturing us in a store-front window. Awesome photo, Maya! We went uptown, at Mina's request, because she wanted to go to FAO Swartz and to see the Empire State Building. Mina believes that the gods and goddess of Mt. Olympus live at the top of the ESB because anyone who has read the Lightning Thief series knows that! Maya got this great picture for her.FAO Swartz is what it is, and Mina didn't ask me for TOO many things (none of which she got anyway) but at least going in there was a relief from the 100 degree NY heat beat down we were receiving outside. One thing about having a kid photographer is that they are always putting the camera up in your face and though you don't want to squash their enthusiasm to take many, many, many pictures at your expense, sometimes you're like, damn enough already. She took this picture on the escalator of FAO Swartz. The photo started out angry, then goofy and in a split second turned glamorous. Maya looked at the screen after she took it and said, "How'd you do that?" I said, "I dunno, but stop taking pictures of me because I don't know if I can do it again."Then there were pic's like this that you gotta love - Lego Chubaka, man!Before we left the LES for midtown, I took them to lunch at Teany and when arriving, the waitress said to me, "You really like this place, huh?" which kinda pissed me off and made me laugh at the same time. I said, a little flushed, "Couldn't leave before my girls ate here too." We ate vegan BLT's and spring salads and lavender lemonade so yea, I really like this place -- sans stupid, harmless observations.

I then took the girls to the Tenement Museum on Orchard. Betsy and I had stumbled onto it when walking around the neighborhood a few days before and though we didn't go on any tours, we sieved through the gift shop thoroughly. At this gift shop is where Betsy bought me my very early birthday present, The Most Killer Necklace Eva:When I took the girls to the museum, I wanted to show them the gift shop for sure, but after reading more about the tours I really wanted to partake. We got in on the last one of the day and ran across the street into the old, narrow building where the tour had stared 7 minutes before. The Tenement Museum bought the five story building, across from the gift shop, in 1988 after it had been boarded up, unused since 1937. For over fifty years this building had not been touched and when the museum unboarded it, they realized that the incredibly rich immigrant history of the entire LES was still alive in the walls, in the molding, the hall paintings, the garment inventory notches on the peeled wallpaper and in the gorgeous mahogany banister that was smooth and polished from seven thousand people of many cultures touching it from 1863 until everyone was evicted in 1937; evicted because of that very banister. The fire codes had changed at the time stating that a building could not have a wood banister. The landlord would need to replace the banister or board up the building. Since it was The Depression, a new banister was not affordable. The Tenement Museum researched real families that lived in certain apartments in certain times and tried to replicate their exact lives, telling their stories of struggle and adaptation. It was an incredible social commentary on immigration and shed light on the fact that the tension of this subject has hardly changed; someone was always looking down on someone else, especially the darker the arriving immigrants got. It was also an empowering historical validation about how women are the rock of a society because even when economies crumble, whether during the Great Panic of the late 1800's or The Great Depression or even now, women get creative and keep food in their families mouths. The second apartment we visited was set up to showcase the lives of an Italian family living there in the mid 1930's. The daughter of this family, as an old woman, happen to stumble upon the renovation of the tenement and she was able to give them exact details about how they lived and how the apartment looked, down to morning glories her father had planted in the window for her mother in the empty government cheese boxes to remind her of Palermo, which she would never see again. The daughter did a voice recording for the tour to tell us what their lives were like very vividly. In the midst of The Depression, a year before the tenement was boarded, the father lost his job and the mother got a part time factory job. FDR at the time started a food box program to help families in need, but the stipulation was that no family member could have a job in order to receive the food. The mother stood in line and told the officials that she did have a part time gig but it wasn't enough. They turned her away. The second time she went, she lied, and said she had no job so she could receive the food. The tour guide then asked us what we thought of that, an undocumented woman lying to receive food on the government’s dime. One woman spoke up and asked very terse, conservative questions about the legality and morality of it. I felt very uncomfortable because I could feel her angle, but just then Mina raised her hand. The tour guide, also shifting on his feet from the woman's energy, asked Mina what she thought. Mina said, "The woman had a choice. To feed her family or not feed her family. I woulda lied." I laughed and nodded. The tour guide said, "I think I would have lied too." Mina made all kinds of great comments throughout the tour, Maya a couple too, which meant that this tour and this information had meaning to them, not just to me. I was fascinated and completely in love with the entire project, but to see the girls engaged and thoughtful and compassionate about the issues and conditions made me almost pass out from pride in the sweltering apartment.

The Tenement Museum and that day with my girls was definitely a highlight of the summer for me.